It’s the time of year for wish lists, and, hopefully, for at least some of those wishes to come true. With the 2018 fantasy football season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to ’19. Here’s what I will be wishing for in the offseason, and I sure do hope there’s someone listening to these pleas who can deliver.
I wish for…
A new quarterback for Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham has spent his entire career saddled with a past-his-prime quarterback who can seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of his team’s brain trust. Eli Manning has had some fine moments since Beckham joined the Giants in 2014, but on balance he has been, at best, average, and, at worst, a bottom-fifth starting quarterback in the league. And yet, Beckham put up 6.6 catches, 92.8 yards and 0.75 touchdowns per game across his first five NFL seasons. For sake of comparison, Jerry Rice averaged 5.1 catches, 75.6 yards and 0.65 touchdowns per game in his Hall of Fame career. Randy Moss? He posted per-game averages of 4.5 catches, 70.1 yards and 0.72 touchdowns. Imagine what Beckham would have done if he spent the first five years of his career playing with Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, or if he could spend the next five playing with Patrick Mahomes or Andrew Luck. That’s not going to happen, but maybe, just maybe, we can get him a new quarterback for 2019.
A forward-thinking coach for Aaron Rodgers
The offensive revolution that has swept the league in the last two years has passed over Green Bay, where Mike McCarthy too often coached like it was 2008 and not ’18. That had a dramatic, deleterious effect on Rodgers, who had an uncharacteristically inconsistent season as the Packers fell short of the playoffs. The struggles cost McCarthy his job, which means Rodgers will have a new coach for the first time in his career next season. Here’s hoping that whoever gets the job in Green Bay is along the lines of Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Matt Nagy and Frank Reich, and not another retread stuck in the past. This wish list within the larger wish list includes names like Lincoln Riley and Josh McDaniels.
One more receiver for Baker Mayfield
Speaking of coaching changes paying immediate dividends, Mayfield was a different quarterback after the Browns fired Hue Jackson and Todd Haley. In seven games from Week 9 through Week 16, which doubles as the Freddie Kitchens era, Mayfield threw for 1,878 yards, 8.58 yards per attempt and 18 touchdowns against six interceptions. The Browns went 5-2 in those seven games, with their only losses coming to the Chiefs and Texans, both playoff teams. It’s clear that things are turning around in a dramatic way in Cleveland, and that much of it owes to Mayfield. Now, the team needs to keep investing in him by giving him as much support as possible. They’ve done a great job to this point, surrounding him with Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry and David Njoku, as well as complementary receivers in Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins, but that’s not enough. The Browns need to go out and get Mayfield one more big-time receiver, preferably someone who can take the top off the defense. Doing so would give the Browns one of the most dangerous offenses in the league next year, and guarantee that Mayfield is a fantasy star in year two.
The right new home for Le’Veon Bell
Bell sat out the entire 2018 season after not receiving a contract offer from the Steelers up to the standards he wanted, and while the move proved quixotic in the end, no one can fault him for sticking to his principles. Bell will be back next year, and when he does play his next NFL game it will be a new team. Bell turns 27 years old in February, and remains one of the game’s truly elite backs, a perfect do-it-all weapon for the modern game. Yes, James Conner may have looked just as good as what the Steelers would have expected from Bell had he played this season, but that doesn’t detract at all from Bell’s gifts. There’s no such thing as a bad landing spot for a player as talented as Bell with his track record, but the truly right new home will have him right back with Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott at the top of the running back position next year. So what’s the right home? How about Kansas City or Indianapolis?
A coaching staff in Arizona that appreciates David Johnson’s gifts
Remember when David Johnson averaged 3.6 targets per game from Week 2 through Week 8. Remember how he got nine targets when the Cardinals came out of their bye in Week 10, only to get eight over the next three weeks combined? Remember how all this happened despite the fact that the Cardinals had one of the worst offenses in the league, with no receiver even coming close to sniffing the 1,000-yard mark? That was all pretty awful, wasn’t it? Word broke after Week 16 that Steve Wilks would likely lose his job after just one season, and erstwhile offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired during the season. Whoever gets the job in Arizona better understand, and hire an offensive coordinator who also knows, just how special a player Johnson is.
A healthy season for San Francisco’s offense
San Francisco’s season of discontent started way back in the week leading up to its season-opener, when Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL. Not even one month later, Jimmy Garoppolo suffered the same injury, ending his first full season with the 49ers. C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens did a decent job filling in for Garoppolo, but both were, and remain, a clear downgrade. Matt Breida injured and re-injured his ankle about 78 times. Marquise Goodwin dealt with various injuries that cost him four games. To top it all off, Dante Pettis, who started to emerge at the end of the year, sprained his MCL in Week 16 to bring an abrupt end to his season. Despite all those setbacks, there were obvious signs of growth in San Francisco, most notably concerning Breida and superstar tight end George Kittle. Put a healthy Garoppolo at the helm of an offense that features those two, McKinnon, Goodwin, Pettis and another receiver, and the 49ers could be one of the breakout teams of 2019. If they can just stay healthy.
An offseason of change for A.J. Green
Green was busy doing his usual, elite receiver thing for the entire first half of the season, catching 45 passes for 687 yards and six touchdowns over his first eight games. It doesn’t take a math genius to extrapolate the 16-game pace of 90 receptions. 1,374 yards and 12 scores. Unfortunately, in that Week 8 game, a 37-34 win over the Buccaneers that moved the Bengals to 5-3 in which Green caught five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown, the receiver suffered a toe injury. He missed Cincinnati’s next three games, returned in Week 13, left that game in the first quarter after aggravating the toe injury, and promptly went on IR. Green isn’t going to get a new quarterback, but he doesn’t need one after everything he has proved capable of with Andy Dalton under center. What he does need is a new head coach and offensive coordinator, as well as a healthy season after missing seven games this year and six in 2016. He may not have the ceiling to be the No. 1 overall receiver, but his floor is certainly that of a safe WR1, and a new mind running the offense could help Green to his best season ever.
An uninterrupted season for O.J. Howard
Like everyone in Tampa, Howard dealt with the seesaw quarterback situation all season. First, it was Ryan Fitzpatrick on top. Then Jameis Winston reclaimed the starting gig. That, of course, was predictable. Winston was suspended to start the season, but it was always a guarantee that he’d eventually get back to the top of the depth chart. What wasn’t predictable, though, was that Winston would play his way out of the lineup, only to take the job back from Fitzpatrick once more. It’s not often that you see one team make three changes to the top of its quarterback depth chart in one season with injuries being a factor, especially when that team ranks third in the league in passing offense. As productive as the Buccaneers’ passing game was all season, the revolving door under center had to be at least a little unsettling for all the skill players, Howard included. The second-year tight end then suffered season-ending ankle and foot injuries in Week 11, fittingly the final game in which the Buccaneers made a quarterback change. Howard ended the season with 34 catches for 565 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games. That comes out to a 16-game pace of 54.4 receptions, 904 yards and eight touchdowns. In recent years, we’ve seen Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle break out and rise to the top of the tight end position. Howard could join them with an uninterrupted 2019 season.